Catherine Chidgey and Paul Cleave: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Catherine Chidgey signs my books.

It’s my first day at the fest and it’s a full morning for me with two events one after the other: Catherine Chidgey (Transformations) and Paul Cleave (Crimechurch). Both Kiwi writers and both well known in their respective fields. But how similar/dissimilar are their writing styles? The lights dim, lets find out!

They are both first and foremost writers: This sounds like a really obvious statement to make, but many other participants at festivals are not. They are first adventurers, sportspeople, chefs, politicians or comediennes who later write about those experiences. But Chidgey & Cleave (sounds like an upmarket boutique store written like that) are both individuals who started writing young, and when asked their occupation would be totally justified in replying:”I am a writer”.

Cover of The Wish ChildThey are both internationally known: Catherine Chidgey has strong German roots and has won several UK book awards starting with her first novel In a Fishbone Church (1998). Her well-known novel The Wish Child is due for publication in the States this year. Paul Cleave is an international best selling crime author who divides his time between Christchurch and Europe. He has a receptive readership in both France and Germany and is also (with his next novel) due to break in to the American market.

They both like the creepy and the quirky: Chidgey is drawn to the weird – phrenology, wigs and the weird half-life status of hair, the religious Procession of the Snails in France, her collection of evening bags. Cleave specialises in unforgettably creepy shiver-up-and-down-your- spine characters like Joe in his first novel The Cleaner (2006).  He likes quirky settings too and finds that Christchurch has those aplenty.

But in other ways these two authors are oh-so different.

Research: Cleave hardly does any research. Maybe ten minutes on Wikipedia tops. He does however need to keep an eye on his own writing and research, in a way. This is because he repeats characters in his books, so for the sake of good continuity he needs to check up on exactly what he said about them before. Nowadays he keeps detailed notebooks. Chidgey is a self confessed obsessive. Once she has decided to write on a topic she researches it to the exclusion of all else. Many is the time she has teetered on the brink of the Google Hole fearing that she would end up researching but never actually writing. Now she tries to research and write at the same time.

Personality: Chidgey is an introverted eyes-and-ears person, not that big a contributor to conversations. Cleave is a terrific talker with great rapport with his interviewer and I’d peg him as a high end extrovert. Chidgey draws heavily on family and friends for her inspiration. Cleave never uses the characteristics of friends in any of his books. His family was barely mentioned.

Cover of Joe Victim by Paul CleaveWriting Style: Cleave writes quickly and loves some of his characters so much that he repeats them, like Joe in The Cleaner (2006), who re-appears in Joe Victim (2013). Although his books are stand-alone reads they do loosely form a series. Chidgey writes slowly and contemplatively, sometimes she reworks a sentence 20 times before she gets it right. She had a 13 year gap between Golden Deeds and The Wish Child. Her latest novel The Beat of the Pendulum (2018) was a relatively fast write by her standards because it was written to cover one year of “found events” in her life. If she left long gaps in the writing she could not keep up. It is a challenging but highly creative book.

Here they are in their own words:

Paul Cleave:

My novels are about the characters in them. That’s what you’ll remember long after you’ve finished the book. There are characters that I love so much I want to repeat them in later stories. But I would kill any one of them to progress the story-line. I’m ruthless that way.

Catherine Chidgey:

I want to create something whole and beautiful out of all the white noise, the static, of everyday living.

My first day at WORD 2018, and two very successful writers show that you can never generalise when it comes to writing. There are as many different ways to be an author as there are stories waiting to be written. It was a very good start.

Find out more

Quick Questions with Catherine Chidgey – WORD Christchurch

CoverWe are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 (Wednesday 29 August to Sunday 2 September).

Catherine Chidgey’s novels have been published to international acclaim. The Wish Child won the 2016 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize and Golden Deeds was a  Los Angeles Times book of the year. Chidgey was awarded the 2017 Janet Frame Fiction Prize.

Catherine Chidgey. Photo credit: Helen Mayall
Catherine Chidgey. Photo credit: Helen Mayall

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

Catching up with the Chidgey cousins.

What do you think about libraries?

They are adventure playgrounds, churches, sweet shops, universities, cruise ships, refuges, time machines…

CoverWhat would be your desert island book?

Wuthering Heights.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

My second and third toes are ever-so-slightly webbed.

Catherine Chidgey’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Catherine Chidgey: Transformations Friday 31 August 10am

Catherine Chidgey: Through the senses workshop Friday 31 August 12.30pm

WORD Christchurch Festival 2018: Having coffee with my author friends!

WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 gives me the perfect opportunity to amp up my author-spotting skills, and at the same time think back on my coffee connections with four authors. Because I have friends who write. They are not quite the imaginary friends of my childhood, but as friends go, they are far more real to me than I will ever be to them.

The fantasy coffee friends: Every Saturday morning, after my swim, I meet up with  Michéle A’Court and her husband Jeremy Elwood at a Rangiora café. They’re not really there, but when I read their back page column in the magazine section of the Christchurch Press, I feel so close to them. It is as if they include me in their dialogue, I feel as if I’m a good friend. I’ll need to rein myself in when I attend A’Court’s WORD discussion Let Love In. A stand-up comic, her two books (Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter and How We Met) are just as entertaining as her shows are.

Michele A’Court. Image supplied.

The Book Club coffee friend: Although I’ve never met Catherine Chidgey in person, she feels like a member of my Book Club. We’ve read all of her books, but favour most highly an early novel of hers: In A Fishbone Church. I read that novel in 2001 just after we arrived in New Zealand, and was mightily impressed with it. Chidgey is now 17 years older and wiser (as are we all), so her WORD event Transformations seems very appropriately titled to me. And her latest novel The Beat of the Pendulum (A Found Story) builds on her daily interactions and snippets that have come her way. I love this – it feels like the kind of novel you could write sitting in your favourite café.

Catherine Chidgey. Image supplied.

The breakfast in bed tea-drinking friend: Tom Scott and I meet most days in my home where, over a cup of rooibos tea, I look forward to his interpretation of New Zealand and World events in his cartoons which often feature in the Christchurch Press (to which I still subscribe). He can be wickedly funny and, on occasion, the next day there will be letters of complaint to the Editor. I bet this makes him so happy. I’m looking forward to his WORD event Drawn Out. Here is a man who can write, talk and draw. But “Can He Dance?” is the next big question.

Tom Scott. Image supplied.

The real-time coffee catch-up friend: I have actually enjoyed a coffee catch-up with Laurence Fearnley – at WORD 2012. We chatted for ages about the importance of Place, Belonging and of course Reading and Writing. You can read that interview. At WORD 2018, unfortunately I  have to miss her event because of a programming clash. Also, Fearnley’s event To The Mountains is on mountain writing in New Zealand. Not such a mountain person here. I do hope one of my more outdoorsy friends will pick up where I left off and track down this lovely lady and have a coffee with her for me!

To the mountains. Image supplied.

My Yet-To-Be Coffee Writing Friends: I’d love to chat over a coffee with Chessie Henry, Jonathan Drori and Robyn Davidson, but the joy of my outlook is that it doesn’t actually have to happen. We can meet up for a virtual coffee, at a café of their choice, on any day in the year. They can join my small, but growing, group of imaginary friends – who write!

Chessie Henry. Image supplied.
Jonathan Drori. Image supplied.
Robyn Davidson. Image supplied.

Follow our WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 coverage, and read the WORD authors.